Updated: Jul 19
In recent years Kung Fu has come under scrutiny as a martial art that is 'useless' for self defence or in ring combat, as several so called Masters of Tai Chi and other Chinese styles have been challenged and easily defeated by MMA Fighters. As an instructor and avid practitioner of Traditional Chinese Internal Arts, I would like to share my views on the subject.
True Martial Arts are always refined and tested through practical application
Martial Arts as a part of Chinese culture has a rich history dating back nearly five thousand years, however due to Government regulations and traditions of secrecy, Martial Arts from China had very little exposure in the west until the 1970's, when Kung Fu came to prominence through Hollywood movie star Bruce Lee.
Although other traditional asian styles such as Karate were already well regarded and widespread in countries like the USA at the time, very few had seen or experienced the many styles that countries like China had to offer.
After Bruce Lee had his smash hit movie 'Enter the Dragon' in 1973, a joint production of Hong Kong and American cinema, Kung Fu became a worldwide phenomenon, with schools for many Kung Fu styles opening up all over the world.
Of course as with all Hollywood movies and Television series in general, scenes are often embellished in order to make the stories more exciting, and it was common to see the 'hero' taking on many different opponents at a time, defeating them easily using fists, feet and weapons, without receiving so much as a scratch in return.
Taking advantage of the mysticism and mystery of Kung Fu, as information on the styles and techniques weren't readily available, and with the World Wide Web or Internet still 10 years away, a lot of charlatans seeking to cash in on the momentum of Chinese Martial Arts started to open their own schools, claiming lineages that dated back thousands of years, and claiming to have skills so extraordinary and powerful, that they could kill with a single strike.
Some even professed to having 'super powers', like the ability to use internal energy or 'Qi' to disable an attackers nervous system without even touching them, using a blast of invisible energy to disable or knock out their opponent. With modern technology and information now at the tips of everyone's fingers, and modern combat sports like Mixed Martial Arts becoming massively popular, more and more of these Martial Arts 'Frauds' are being caught out in their own lies, or being openly challenged to show evidence of their skills in real combat.
Practitioners such as Xu Xiaodong, a professional MMA fighter from China have openly challenged some of these self proclaimed 'Masters' to spar or fight, and easily defeated them in a matter of seconds. This has led to a lot of controversy about the legitimacy of Kung Fu as a practical fighting style, and has caused outrage in China amongst Traditional Chinese Kung Fu practitioners and the Chinese Government, who feel these recent events as an attack on Chinese tradition and culture, and the nation in general:
A Martial Arts effectiveness is not determined by the style, but the Practitioner
What I feel is misinterpreted or misrepresented in a lot of these media presentations, is that Kung Fu in its entirety is not effective as a fighting system, and that all Kung Fu styles are flowery, ineffective or worthless when it comes to real combat. There are also a lot of comments that Tai Chi is not a Martial Art, but a form of 'health exercise', with no real practical applications for combat. This couldn't be further from the truth, as there are many joint locks, throws and strikes that are very effective in real combat situations. An example of Tai Chi being used in real combat is shown in this video below:
Whilst this is a very one sided competition and the practitioner in Black, Fan Shuaixin is completely outmatched by his opponent Wang Zhanjun, it is a very good example of the techniques of Tai Chi being used in real combat. It is also a great example that it is not the style that is important, but the skill level of the practitioner that is on show, when there is a clash of competitors from different schools, or practising differing arts.
There are many other examples of competitions like these, including style versus style competitions of Karate Black Belts versus Tai Chi Masters, which also show the incredible skills true Masters display in their respective styles.
Unfortunately there is also a lot of misinformation spread about the development of Internal Energy or 'Qi', which is often dismissed as 'fantasy', or disregarded by modern martial arts circles as a marketing ploy designed to make money, as there are few Masters who can, or who are willing to, demonstrate the generation of this internal energy in a public setting.
As an instructor of Traditional Chinese Kung Fu and an avid practitioner of Martial Arts in general, I am disheartened at a lot of the recent media who continue to discredit Tai Chi, and refer to it as a 'fake' martial art, or who dismiss internal energy or 'Qi' as a made up concept etc, as I have been fortunate enough to find Instructors of authentic Chinese Internal Martial Arts, who can not only demonstrate Internal Energy or explosive 'fajin', but can impart their knowledge as well. The explosive power practitioners of Wu Xing Dao can demonstrate can be heard from across the room, and the power of the impact of these strikes is devastating, and can completely incapacitate an opponent.
Strikes can also done with lightning speed, and a practitioner of Wu Xing Dao can easily land 5 or more punches per second, as can be seen in the attached video:
With respect to the question posed, 'Is Kung Fu an effective form of fighting or self defence?' I think the above alone is an answer of a resounding 'YES', however if more proof is needed we only need to look to the world's premier Mixed Martial Arts organisation the UFC, and former World Strawweight Champion Weili Zhang. Weili has an outstanding MMA record of 23 fights, and 21 victories, with only two defeats in her entire career, and openly discusses how she incorporates her traditional Martial Arts training (including Tai Chi) into her fighting style:
As a Kung Fu practitioner with 20 years of training in Internal Arts, I feel I have enough experience to accurately dispel some of the myths and fallacies often discussed when it comes to the effectiveness of Kung Fu and Tai Chi for self defence and fighting strategy, and am a firm believer that all Martial Arts styles can be used in real combat with the correct training and development.
What I will say about Traditional Martial Arts is this, that if a school does not regularly seek to apply their skills in full speed, non-cooperative sparring or combat, then the students of the school are being done a disservice, and the Instructor is not providing these students an opportunity to test and refine their technique.
I am also a big advocate that MMA is a great platform for any Martial Artist to practice their skills, and test them against practitioners of different styles, to further hone their own craft.
I also believe that Martial Arts charlatans and Frauds who try to deceive the public should be identified and shamed, as they ruin the reputation of real Martial Artists like myself, who spend a lifetime practising, honing and perfecting their skills, only to be thought of in the same vein as people who are simply trying to make a quick buck through pulling the wool over the eyes of unsuspecting victims.
Either way, I hope this article has given you a new perspective on the art of Kung Fu, if you would like to learn more feel free to reach out so we can arrange a free trial session.